‘Disgust’ with Israel led to rise in UK anti-Semitism, says baroness

Jenny Tonge’s former Liberal Democrat party distances itself from her remarks

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Baroness Jenny Tonge (YouTube screen capture)
Baroness Jenny Tonge (YouTube screen capture)

Rising anti-Semitism in Europe reflects the general public’s “disgust” over the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, a controversial member of Britain’s House of Lords said Monday.

Taking to Facebook to publish a letter she said the Guardian newspaper had failed to print, Baroness Jenny Tonge welcomed Sunday’s publication of an all-party parliamentary report on anti-Semitism.

But she said “it would have been more useful if it had investigated the causes of anti-Semitism too. It is difficult to believe that a 75 percent increase in anti-Semitism it reports have been committed by people who simply hate Jewish people for no reason.”

“It is surely the case these incidents are reflecting the disgust among the general public of the way the government of Israel treats Palestinians and manipulates the USA and ourselves to take no action against the country’s blatant disregard of international law and the Geneva Conventions.”

I sent this to The Guardian yesterday– it hasn't been printedSent from my iPadSubject: Tough on anti Semitism/…

Posted by Jenny Tonge on Monday, October 17, 2016

Tonge, a member of the Liberal Democrat Party, who sits as an independent peer in Parliament after resigning from the party’s parliamentary group over anti-Israel comments in 2012, went on: “Added to this is Israel’s adoption of the official title of ‘Jewish state of Israel’. This conflates Israel with the Jewish people here, whether or not they support the Zionist state and many do not. I look forward to the sequel to this report.”

“Be tough on the causes of antisemitism as well as the loathsome sentiment itself.”

The report published Sunday — “Antisemitism in the UK” — was compiled by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, the lower house of the British Parliament.

It was scathing about the Labour Party and attacked its far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn for his “lack of consistent leadership on this issue, and his reluctance to separate anti-Semitism from other forms of racism,” saying this had created “what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

British Liberal Democrat MP David Ward. (courtesy)
British Liberal Democrat MP David Ward. (courtesy)

Also responding to the report on Sunday, David Ward, a former Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, tweeted “The Zionists are winning despite the appalling racism of the State of Israel and its supporters – don’t give up – good will triumph bad.”

On the same day, he tweeted that the anti-Semitism row was “becoming daft.”

The Liberal Democrats suspended Ward for three months in 2013 after he made comments questioning Israel’s right to exist and comparing the Jewish state to apartheid.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron on Tuesday told London’s LBC radio that comments from both Tonge and Ward were “intolerable” and that action had been taken, although he could not specify what that action was.

A party spokesperson told the Jewish News that “Jenny Tonge does not take the party whip [does not accept party discipline] in the House of Lords and does not speak for the Liberal Democrats on Middle East issues.”

“If a complaint is made, we will investigate it quickly and thoroughly.”

Tonge resigned in 2012 from the position of party whip, a task equivalent in the United States to speaker, after she spoke about Israel’s demise at an event promoting the boycott of the Jewish state.

“Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form,” she said at the time. “One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving 70 billion [dollars] a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough… Israel will lose its support and then they will reap what they have sown.”

In reality, the United States gives a lot less. In its biggest aid package to the Jewish State to date, it signed a deal in September to provide $38 billion over ten years.

In July, Tonge accused the Jewish state of being a major cause of the rise of jihadism worldwide.

In a House of Lords statement on Palestinian children, she said “The treatment of the Palestinians by Israel is a major cause of the rise of extreme Islamism and Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State terrorist organization. She said Israel was provoking a generation of violent extremists who would have “a justified grudge” against Israel and Britain.

Demands by the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the time to expel Tonge from the party went unheeded.

Gideon Falter, the chair of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, said earlier this week that Farron’s inactivity would be as bad as that of Jeremy Corbyn unless he expelled Tonge and Ward.

“For Tim Farron to leave this matter here would amount to a similar display of hypocritical and weak leadership,” he said.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after a Stop Trident march though central London, Feb. 27, 2016. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images via JTA)
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after a Stop Trident march though central London, Feb. 27, 2016. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images via JTA)

Gary Spedding, who carries out cross-party work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has complained to Farron.

“It is deplorable for anyone to suggest that Israel is the main cause of anti-Semitism here in the UK,” he said. “The reality is that Israel-Palestine related anti-Semitism is the result of a toxic mixture of ignorance, hatred, victim blaming, denial and an unhealthy obsession with Jewish people.”

“It is even more disgusting that she [Tonge] has tried to rationalize such vile hatred and oppression towards Jewish people, the problematic and harmful language used, by justifying anti-Semitic incidents by claiming it is merely an expression of people’s disgust at the way the government of Israel treats Palestinians. This is frankly sickening. I myself am known for my heavy criticisms of the Israeli state, their actions and policies towards the Palestinians, and yet I manage to bring forward such critiques and analysis without being anti-Semitic or engaging in anti-Jewish oppression.”

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